Any space for nature in Indian slums?

It is not uncommon to hear Bangalore residents (often from the wealthier parts of the city) bemoaning the loss of trees and green space that has occurred as Bangalore rose to be the Silicon Valley of India. 

But what about the people who live in th640 recorded slums¹ across the city? What access to nature and greenery do they have and how do they use it?

Density of green space in Bangalore

Given that slums often inhabit marginal and polluted land, and that they have a high population density, one would hazard a guess that trees are not particularly common. This assumption is supported by a recent study conducted by Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment, in conjunction with the University of Greifswald, Germany. Researchers Divya Gopal, Harini Nagendra and Michael Manthey observed 44 slums across Bangalore and confirmed that the tree density in slums is in fact substantially lower than that in the wealthier residential areas of Bangalore.¹

What are the implications of this for urban development, poverty and human health?

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Arsenic contaminates drinking water supplies in India

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for me to be shocked when I read the local newspaper each morning. This time, my interest was captured by the headline “When water turns poison in West Bengal…”

I wondered what could cause something as innocuous as water to turn into poison.

Arsenic

What surprised me most was that these reports of arsenic poisoning were not new. In fact, the first such cases of arsenic poisoning were reported in 1993 when Dr. K. C. Saha, a dermatologist from Calcutta, related the problem of skin lesions he observed to the high levels of arsenic in the drinking water.

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Reinventing the toilet in India?

Sanitation has long been a critical, but somewhat unfashionable issue in health and rural development, so it is heartening to see the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation putting their substantial resources behind technological change and innovation in this field with their “Reinvent the Toilet” fair. 

A lack of hygienic sanitation and untreated effluent contribute significantly to the pollution of rivers and ecosystems and create an enormous public health issue. Recent measurements of the coliform bacteria levels in the Ganges in India recorded 5,500 mpn/100 ml, well above what is considered safe for farming (5,000 mpn/100 ml), let alone bathing (500 mpn/100 ml) or drinking (50 mpn/100 ml). Every year “food and water tainted with faecal matter cause up to 2.5 billion cases of diarrhea among children under five, resulting in 1.5 million child deaths.” 

The minimum requirements for the competition were that the toilets must operate without running water, electricity or a septic system, must not discharge pollutants and should capture energy or other resources. The winning design from the California Institute of Technology certainly fits that bill, as it is a solar-powered toilet that generates hydrogen and electricity.

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600 million in dark over massive Indian power outages

Having a stable power supply is something that I have always taken for granted in Australia. But not so in India, where dealing with load shedding and power cuts is part of daily life. So much so that most hospitals, large apartment complexes and hotels have alternate power supply and backup generators to deal with the inconvenience.

But last week was somewhat different, as India experienced the world’s largest power cut, far surpassing any regular scheduled cuts. A grid failure of the north, eastern and north eastern grids took out the nation’s capital, New Delhi and affected over 600 million people. If you consider the fact that is almost twice the entire population of the USA, one gets a sense of the sheer scale of the impact. Trains were left stranded on the tracks, metros were closed and traffic chaos ensued. One Wall Street Journal reporter wrote this satirical take on the issue – 1.2 Billion Indians hit by leadership outage, highlighting the lack of national leadership at a time of crisis.

Power in rural Punjab

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